Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Spotty, can you say “Tar Baby”?

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:57 PM |  

Spotty has a question for me, today.
Sticks, can you say equal marginal sacrifice principle of taxation?
This is why one doesn’t punch Tar Babies.

How many questions did I pose to Spotty in the context of the school choice discussion? A dozen or so? How many did he address, let alone answer? Zero. His final post on the subject was a lecture on when to use boldface in a post. Now, out of the blue, so to speak, he comes up with yet another question irrelevant to anything.

I have no intention of discussing anything as foolish as the marginal sacrifice principle applied to taxes, at least with Spotty for whom discussion is little more than the hope of finding something so arcane to discuss that he appears intelligent.

For the record, the equal marginal sacrifice principle applied to taxes would say something like taxes should be levied such that the last tax dollar everyone pays has the same economic impact on each and every individual. So for example, if the poorest person in the land pays $50 in taxes and as a result cannot purchase a winter coat, then I must be assessed taxes to the point where I can not purchase a winter coat and Bill Gates must also be taxed to the point where he cannot afford a winter coat. We all make an equal sacrifice to pay our taxes.

If you're thinking "from each, to each" you're on the right track. It’s impractical in reality and ridiculous in principle.

Sorry, Spotty. You’re going to have to go back to chasing your tail; I'm not throwing the ball for you any more.

BREAKABLE NEWS -- Pioneer Press Reporter injured reporting air quality in St. Paul bars

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:59 PM |  

Bites own tongue during convulsive fit

A St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter had to be restrained by paramedics when he went into a sudden convulsive fit during a telephone interview with St. Paul city councilman David Thune. Veteran science report Winston Schusler was assigned to cover testing that showed a dramatic improvement of air quality inside St. Paul bars since the smoking ban took effect March 31 at the time of the incident.

Paramedics, responding to a 911 alert, raced into the Pioneer Press newsroom late yesterday afternoon where Schusler was convulsing over his computer keyboard.

“The quantity of blood indicated he’d severely bitten his tongue,” said Paramedic Roxanne Kneebacher. “He was in an abbreviated fetal position gripping his stomach.”

After sedating and restraining Schusler, paramedics rushed the journalist to Regions Hospital where, after about three hours in a decompression chamber, he was admitted to the hospital for overnight observation.

“He nearly died laughing,” said Dr. Rudolph DeGras, a gastro-intestinal specialist at Regions.

In a bedside interview later that evening, a still painfully amused Schusler recounted his near-death experience saying the convulsion was brought about by fear of losing his objectivity, and consequently his “Licensed Journalist” credentials.

“I though I could handle the story,” Schusler said. “Come on, is it really news that when people stop smoking in bars, there’s less smoke in the air? I thought I could have a little fun with the story, make some wise cracks the physical stress of throwing darts in a smoky room, but then I started interviewing people. These morons take themselves so seriously – I just lost it.” He grimaced as he held in a chortle.

“After listening to all the BS about no safe levels of secondhand smoke (according to the surgeon general) and quoting of micrograms per cubic meter, then Dave Thune starts talking about bars smelling better.” Schusler doubled over and a nurse cleared his room of reporters.

Schusler is expected to return to work later in the week, about the time the Minnesota Department of Health is scheduled to issue a report saying that people who stop drinking spirits, wine and beer can lower their blood alcohol level to “virtually zero.”

Did this GOP release hit below the belt?

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:03 AM |  

I poked a little fun at the GOP in my column today for the avalanche of negative press releases the party issues. The Sarah Janecek/Blois Olson Politics in Minnesota newsletter recently did a count and came up with only 2 of 75 releases that were positive about the GOP. For that reason, GOP releases are not usually the first thing I read, but I admit I was intrigued by the GOP’s Tuesday swat at Mike Hatch -- given the way its title was truncated by Yahoo mail --
Flip-Flop of the Week: Volume 1: Issue 40 //Hatch Flip-Flops on the Length of His...
I didn't quite know where the GOP was going with that one, or if Minnesota Democrats Exposed was reaching for new levels of exposure. I was concerned I might have to provide a credit card number to view a new Republican Party web site.

COLUMN -- Where they'd stand on Planet Woebegone

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:53 AM |  

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

After much debate, a coalition of astronomers impeached Pluto of planetary status, sentencing it to the category "dwarf planet." In an election year, it seems all things under, or orbiting, the sun are political fodder. These comments from local politicos would not come as a surprise.

GOP Chair Ron Carey called action taken against Pluto "the most galactic example of malfeasance during Mike Hatch's tenure as attorney general." Informed Hatch had no part in the decision, Carey referred reporters to the GOP's 137th new Web site, "Mike Hatch Spaced Out."

Attorney General and DFL gubernatorial candidate Hatch responded that he had made only one call to Pluto, it lasted only a couple of minutes, and he only requested that the pod door be opened — a request that was denied. Hatch also noted that he thinks astronomers make way too much money; he promised to investigate.

Hatch's DFL primary challenger Becky Lourey saw in Pluto's demotion yet another example of discrimination against the "little guy." She proposed universal health care for Plutonians regardless of their immigration status.

Peter Hutchinson, Independence Party candidate for governor, amended his five G's of political distraction to six — "guns, gays, God, gambling, gynecology and galaxies." He then called Plutonians bad drivers, said they are fat and asked for their votes in November.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty insisted that calling Pluto a "dwarf planet" instead of a "planet" is necessary to avoid astronomical gridlock. He then mandated that the Department of Education immediately change the state standard definition of Pluto from "Mickey's best friend." Education Commissioner Alice Seagren requested a delay until Nov. 15, saying "Ah, governor, we canna' defy the laws of inertia."

Pawlenty's primary challenger Sue Jeffers said Pawlenty calling a "planet" a "dwarf planet" was balancing the Solar System using semantic tricks; it taxed credibility and therefore violated the governor's "no new taxes" pledge. Hoping for a meteoric rise in the polls, Jeffers declared she opposes publicly funded stadiums on Pluto and any attempt to make Pluto smoke-free.

DFL Chair Brian Melendez demanded (to no one in particular) that the designation "dwarf planet" be changed to "orbitally challenged." He blasted the Bush administration for not doing enough to correct Pluto's orbit while it promoted the interests of "Big Planets" on the backs of planets without color.

Michele Bachmann, 6th District congressional candidate, was prompted by the controversy to revise her state constitutional amendment to define marriage as one Earth man and one Earth woman. "We must defend terrestrial marriage," she said.

Bachmann's opponent, DFLer Patty Wetterling, said, as she has many times, she is not a politician and she is not an astronomer, and although she doesn't know much about the Pluto issue, she cares about people. "I am the first candidate to call for bringing American troops on Pluto home by Thanksgiving," she said.

In the Senate race, Republican Mark Kennedy pointed out that, unlike President Bush, he favored demoting Pluto, and he would vote "no" on drilling in any environmentally sensitive areas of the dwarf planet. He also assured farmers that he favored restrictive tariffs on energy imports from Pluto that might be less expensive, yield more energy and be more environmentally friendly than Minnesota corn-based ethanol. He promised to bring Minnesota values to the galaxy.

DFL Senate candidate Amy Klobuchar wrote on her Web site that when she was growing up, she would get on her bike, ride down Oakview Lane, take a left at County Road 6, navigate several hills and, within a few short miles, there she was — gazing up at Pluto. When she talks to Plutonians today, they tell her it's time for a change in Washington. Noting that it would take 690 years and one month to travel to Pluto at jet aircraft speeds, Klobuchar said she would fight to ensure that returning travelers could count on social security.

As for your humble hobby columnist — well, as long as there are no government regulations on Pluto that prohibit obese, same-sex couples from getting married, smoking in bars and restaurants, packing a firearm and driving an SUV running on ethanol-free fuel to drop their children off at the school of their choice, hey, how bad a world can it be?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Cleaning up Spotty’s latest mess (School Vouchers)

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:29 AM |  

"Specifically, Sticks is incensed that Spot would accuse him of using minority kids as stalking horses for school voucher plans."
"Incensed" is pretty close to my personal reaction, but my personal reaction is irrelevant, as I pointed out in my previous post. My motives are also irrelevant to the discussion of parental school choice. Spotty’s posts, like the occasional attempts of Bob Moffitt to appear knowledgeable, offer the opportunity to reiterate the fundamental issues at stake -- cleaning up after the dog can be good exercise.

Spotty says "Let's imagine this little scene:" a good word choice, "imagine," a bad attempt at Socratic fisking. My comments in bold.

Spot: Remember, Captain, you’re still under oath.

CF: Yeah, yeah I remember.

Spot: You’re a libertarian, right?

CF: And proud of it!

But let’s make sure we understand what that means. You want to equate libertarians with anarchists, someone that is against all government. And to be fair, there is a lot of that sentiment among libertarians. To say that government is best that governs least does imply that government is best that governs not at all. That’s obviously not true. Today’s libertarian – at least as I use the term – believes that government is best that sticks to those things the government is constitutionally authorized to do. Again, that’s not as simple as pointing to Article 1 Section 8, but that’s a good place to start.

Spot: I’m sure you are. Do libertarians believe in the public interest?

CF: Well, sure! Just not the same way you do. We think it is in the public interest for there to be no public interest. We don’t believe that people can get together collectively to do useful things, except for maybe national defense and the protection of private property rights.

Of course libertarians believe in the public interest, and national defense and protecting property rights (civil courts) are good examples of public goods. What libertarians don’t believe in is public interest at the point of a gun. They beleive first you define a generic public good, and then apply the criteria to specific government actions, not the other way around. Libertarians believe in collective action – what is a political party if not collective action? What they don’t believe in are manufactured collective visions that are the province of whomever is in power forced up on others. A good example of what this means is expressed by the idea that a free society can tolerate pockets of collectivism, but a collective society cannot tolerate any individual freedom. Again, moving away from the anarchist view of libertarianism, libertarians believe that “public goods” should be addressed by the least restrictive (of individual freedom) means.

Spot: We’re all in this by ourselves, right?

CF: Right. And this big invisible magic hand will push each of us in the right direction and it will all come out okay if our faith is strong enough and we just hope for the best. I know that sounds kinda crazy, but that’s what we believe.

“We’re all in this by ourselves” is the straw man used to scare people, and throwing the invisible hand into the discussion is a red herring. But the fish is out of the water, so I’ll deal with it. The notion of the invisible hand – that individual’s acting in their own self interest result in collective benefits to society – is an aggregate concept. It’s the 10,000-foot view, the big picture. It’s based on the idea that no one entity, like government, can possibly have all the immediate information necessary to make marketplace decisions. If you think about it, everything government does is based on a study, a report, analysis, and some decision making process. That methodology can’t possible compete with the immediacy of market fluctuations. By the time government figures out what to do, the situation has changed.

But what about the question “we’re all in this by ourselves”? That is an individual, not an aggregate question. Man is a social animal. He organizes himself – including forming governments – to satisfy his social nature. What libertarians argue is that the smaller the social group, the better it takes care of its own. Helping others expands from the family outward into civil society and up through local governments. Government is the last, not the first resort.

Spot: Will the invisible magic hand give a shove to the neglectful parents who won’t immunize their children or seek medical care for them when they are sick? Will the invisible magic hand stay the hand of a child abuser? Will the invisible magic hand provide for orphans?

CF: It’ll provide for the orphans if they can do useful work.

I’ve already demonstrated the error of addressing individual situations with an aggregate concept. The issues raised here are legitimate questions. Spots wishes to address them from a collective perspective – he and his people know best and they will decide what everyone must do. (Immunization is a good example. From the tone of Spot's remarks, I infer he favors mandatory universal vaccination or at least enough to ensure "herd immunity." If some percentage of the population suffers negative results, that's a necessary "collective" sacrifice.) The libertarian view is addressing whatever public interest is at stake with the concept of the least restrictive means of achieving it.

Spot: Move to strike the answer as non-responsive.

CF: Okay, no, it won’t do any of these things.

Actually, Spot is wrong, but the invisible hand is irrelevant to the discussion he thinks he is having. The real discussion is one of how to provide public goods – of which I believe education is one.

Spot: Thank you Captain. And yet, you believe that privatizing the educational system, will improve educational outcomes? And you want us to believe that little black kids aren’t just stalking horses for your long term plan to destroy public education because it is full of union people?

CF: [chortle] Yes, that’s right.

For someone that claims a legal mind, that is a convoluted jump of logic. As I’ve pointed out numerous times, my motives, have nothing to do with the basic question of given where we are today, what is the most immediate step we can take to improve education of specific children. Spot seems more interested in debating what I think about black children – which has absolutely no impact on their education one way or another.

Spot: Thank you. I have no further questions at this time. The witness is subject to recall.

There it is, boys and girls. Is Captain Fishsticks a credible witness on his concern for inner-city school children? Of course not. He doesn’t give a rat’s arse for them; he’s just interested in another way to put pressure on public schools to try to kill them. Take away as much revenue as you can, bleed them white and watch them die.

Oh no, says Sticks! Rep. Buesgens’ plan is only for low income kids. But, it’s just the camel’s nose under the tent. Pretty soon you’ve got the whole camel! The strategy of the vouchers crowd is to whittle away at publics schools, making them die from a thousand cuts. The inner-city schools are the most vulnerable, so that’s where to start. If you read the comments to Sticks’ post and the two Spot posts linked above, you will see that’s the agenda for a lot of the people who agree with Sticks.

Let’s sort out what Spotty believes from his rhetoric. His first paragraph reiterates his belief that my motives bear on the logic of the argument – or for that matter the motives of some people leaving comments. He reinforces that notion with the camel’s nose under the tent analogy.

That’s the rhetoric; here are the facts and the questions left unanswered.

Under a voucher program, money associated with students leaving district schools would be lost to the district only after a transition period during which the district would receive money for students it was no longer responsible to educate. Vouchers would be limited and voluntary. If the district school were doing a good job for a student, why would he or she choose to leave? If a substantial number of students applied to leave, why wouldn’t the school try to improve? If the school can’t improve, why should it survive? Spot says inner-city schools are most vulnerable – why? Might it be because they are not meeting the needs of inner-city families?

Here are the logical inferences.

Spot assumes that public schools cannot improve if students accept vouchers (which provide transition dollars). Under the current system, if a student leaves the district under open enrollment or for a private school, the district gets no transition dollars. Therefore, the real danger of vouchers is they provide the motivation and opportunity for students to seek a better education than the public school is providing (they might also motivate the family to seek a better private school than one they might have otherwise considered). It is choice that Spot cannot tolerate; kids must be kept in failing schools, not for their sake, but for the sake of the system.

The really disgusting and manipulative thing, one that really requires the stones, is that Sticks’ crowd is enlisting the support of inner-city parents who have endured decades of neglect of their public schools. It is shameless chicanery.

Excuse me, but the “Sticks crowd” is a Johnny-come-lately to the school choice movement. Spot is expressing the subtle form of liberal racism that implies people of color are not capable of accomplishing anything without beneficent white help. The school choice movement is not a white, conservative creation. Inner city black leaders that were frustrated by the failure of public schools, by-in-large Democrats, did the heavy lifting. Go back, read the early literature or the stuff written in 2004 around the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education – primarily the voices of the black community. They initiated the “collective action” to do something for their kids and their communities.

Sticks say private school vouchers are also a way for the state to save money. Exactly. Why spend, say $8,000 or more per year on an inner-city kid when you can toss ‘em a $3500 voucher instead, especially when you can make his parents feels fortunate to get it! Is that a good libertarian value, or what!

More rhetoric. The point is neither saving money, which vouchers do, nor that parents feel grateful, which they do. The point is does the individual child receiving a voucher have a better opportunity at an education? Does choice give the child that opportunity? Behind Spot’s rhetoric is the fundamental belief that choice hurts the system, therefore, choice is bad. Some (most?) parents (or just parents of color?) are incapable of making wise educational choices for their children, therefore ALL parents must be denied that opportunity (except parents that can afford the choice, and they must be criticized for making it). Therefore, choice is bad.

Spot says the answer – the only equitable and legal answer – is to stick it out with the public schools and make them better. That runs contrary to Stick’s nature.

That’s fine. But the consequence of that course is that the education of some kids must be sacrificed while the system fixes itself. Yes, that runs contrary to my nature.

Oh, almost forgot! Sticks has been very quiet lately. Just a post of his columns and a couple of other little posts for weeks now. Why? Spot thinks it is because Fishsticks has got a new gig. Why doesn’t someone ask him what it is?

Asking a question must be something that requires collective action. Why else would Spot delegate it.
As I posted before, Spotty is one of those tar baby posters that it doesn’t pay to pay to punch too often because, as his posts demonstrate, discussion is not the goal. Responding to Spotty is like responding to Moffitt, sometimes there is value in pointing out the lack or intellectual substance in non-responsive arguments and taking the opportunity to lay out both the facts and the fundamental principles at stake. Once that is done, so is my work here. There are other "gigs" to pursue.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Response to Spot -- Buesgens and vouchers (updated)

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:47 PM |  

I used to respond to the somewhat rabid ranting over at the "cucking stool." I thought it was the ill-informed, immature opinions of some young wannabe Power Liberal type, so I held out hope. But turns out Spot is no puppy, but an old dog incapable of learning new tricks. I stopped wasting my time. I don’t really care what other people think of me, as long as they get me right. In this post, Spotty is too far off the mark to ignore.

He goes after Rep. Mark Buesgens letter in the Star Tribune and follows a cut and paste of the letter with his own comments. My comments in bold

Who indeed would deny opportunity to low-income children? Why, Spotty says it's you, Rep. Buesgens! Spot has said it before and will say it again: the goal of No Child's Behind Left and school vouchers is the destruction of public education. Period. Buesgens will give you that sad puppy smile if you say that to his face, but don't be fooled. The inner-city children that Buesgens - and Katie, Captain Fishsticks, and Geoff MIchel, for that matter - appear to champion are just so many little black stalking horses for them.

Well I don’t know about Katie and Geoff, but speaking for Buesgens and certainly for myself, little black kids are not stalking horses, but for the sake of argument, let’s say that they are. Okay, Spotty, you got me. I’m out to destroy public education and don’t give a damn about little black kids, other than that they learn to read their own arrest reports so my tax dollars aren’t wasted in expediting jailing them. Please, how does that make any difference in the argument that denying these kids the opportunity to escape a failing school is better for them than enabling them to attend a private school that might actually provide them with an education? Nobody is forcing them to leave. They can remain if they want.

I can be the most despicable of individuals, and my motives the most sinister imaginable, but that doesn’t change the equation for these kids. You prefer to keep them where they are not learning rather than helping them get somewhere where they can learn. You’re not biting here, just barking.

No Child's Behind Left is actually a moniker applied to the slow-motion homicide of public schools by Greg Palast in his recent book Armed Madhouse.

Haven’t read the book, but you had me at “No.” Aside from raising the visibility of the achievement gap, there is very little in NCLB of value. I’d even agree that by virtue of being a federal program, it is slow-motion homicide for public schools. But it’s your breed that wants the federal government involved in education. If you’re lucky, only half the time will that government be in control of “the bad guys.” So when your people get in you can change the system, and when conservatives get in they will change it back. And while you guys are all licking yourselves, the kids are the one’s getting whip-sawed between changing education philosophies and standards. How does that do kids any good?

Most of the people who show up at Rep. Buesgens' little pep fests for school vouchers already have kids in private, most often sectarian schools. They're just looking for a subsidy for something they already do. According to Palast, and the source NCLB expert Scott Young, 76% of the voucher money handed out in an Arizona voucher program went to students already in private schools. Just a subsidy.

That may be Arizona, but read the damn Minnesota bill before you comment. The Hann/Buesgens proposal is limited to only kids from low income families that are NOT already in private schools. To me, that is one of the unfair aspects of the bill -- a family scrimping and saving to send their kids to private schools today wouldn’t be helped by the bill. Haven't seen you at any pep fests, more commonly refered to as "committee hearings" but I have seen a lot of Somali immigrants, Hispanics, and African-American residents of North Minneapolis in attendance. I've also seen some families of color that do have the means to put their kids in private schools -- they are they lobbying for their not-so-fortunate neighbors. I've also seen administrators from private schools that would benefit from vouchers at the hearings -- kind of interesting to see a Catholic, Lutheran, Muslum and Jew talking together about the common vision (nice ring, huh?) of educating kids to be contributing members of society while keeping their religious heritage. Tell me again why this is bad?

It is also laughable, especially when the idea is raised in an election year, to think that the feds are going to sink $100 million into vouchers. Heck, these clowns don't pay enough money to the states to cover the cost of the mandated testing under NCLB. Again, according to Palast, fifteen states have sued the federal government on these grounds.

You’re talking federal government here -- which does have no constitutional authority to muck about in education. Buesgens proposal is a state program. Get your clowns straight.

What is the effect of vouchers on public schools? Let's assume for a minute they actually do what proponents say: persuade kids to transfer to private schools. Every time a child leaves a public school, the per-pupil funding attached to that child also leaves.

Get your facts right. When a child under the current open enrollment system leaves one public school district and goes to another, the first district loses all state funding. If a child picks up, under the current system, and goes to private school, the district loses all funding. (BTW if you do the math and multiply state education obligation for every student voluntarily in private schools, those kids are saving taxpayers a hellueva lot of money.) Under the Buesgens bill, when a child took a voucher it was only for the state educational funds -- about half of all the money allocated per student. The rest remained with the district for one year. In addition, the bill in its last incarnation allocated $3,000 per year per voucher student for three years to cover transition costs. Pretty generous.

Because Republicans like them so much, Spot is now going to use some business concepts.

In microeconomics, there is a concept called the "shut-down" point. An enterprise arrives at the shut-down point when its revenue no longer covers its variable costs. Notice, Gs and Gettes, the shut-down point is under the point where the enterprise is merely in the red. An enterprise may be in the red, yet earning enough money to pay its variable costs and eat up some of its fixed costs, the so-called overhead items, or to entrepreneurs, the "nut." In other words, you shut down when you lose more money by operating than closing.

Even attractive suburban schools, like the ones on Spot's hometown, are in on the dogpile on inner-city schools. The district loves open enrollment, right up to where the schools are full, because it maximizes revenue and minimizes per-pupil costs, and there is a bigger herd over which to amortize fixed costs.
Well, that was brutal, but that's the way it works.

Every student that leaves drives the marginal revenue down a lot more than the marginal cost of that student. It pushes the school closer to the shut-down point. This is the end zone for the public school killers.

Correct analysis -- now tell me why this is bad. If a school or a district (not public education or government schools at large) is so bad that students voluntarily leave, why is that bad? And don’t forget to consider that under the Buesgens voucher program the district is getting $3,000 to cover the costs of a kid it’s not responsible for and the number of vouchers granted each year is limited. Ya think when a district is getting transition money for kids not attending school and the number of kids that get vouchers is limited that it can’t make improvements over three years? I think it can. So who’s the one running down public education?

Vouchers are not about sending poor little black kids to Blake, or The Blake School, as it likes to call itself. (Spotty says that anything with "the" in the front of it usually comes with a price premium of at least 25%.)

No vouchers are not about sending poor kids to Blake, or SPA or any other elite school. They were never advertised as such except by the likes of Nick Coleman and his bow-tie crack. Vouchers are about providing low-income families with funds so they can escape really bad schools. PCE did a study and the $4,601 maximum voucher in the last Buesgens bill would cover total tuition at about 85 percent of the private schools in the Twin Cities, which includes a mix of various sectarian schools from Jewish to Islamic plus secular schools, which meets the U.S. Supreme Court requirement for a vocher program that parents choose the school and have a variety of alternatives.

They are about easing the burden to well off parents who already send their kids there.

Not true, people that already have their kids in private schools do not qualify for vouchers in the Buesgens bill. Plus, the Buesgens program was a means-tested program only for low-income families.

That, and putting additional financial pressure on already-strapped inner-city public schools.

Not true, there are transition funds paid to school districts and a limit on the number of vouchers available. Schools will have financial pressure only if they fail to improve enough to keep kids from voluntarily leaving.

So there you have it. That’s what it’s all about. Don’t like vouchers? Fine. Think I’m out to destroy public education? So be it. But get your facts straight and address the basic question -- regardless of what my motives might be, why is it better for a kid to be in a failing school when he or she might be learning better in a private school? There is one reason -- individual children must be sacrificed, the funds attached to them must stay in the system, in order that others that follow might possibly get a better education. Sorry, but I find even metaphoric human sacrifice to the state just a little barbaric and immoral.

Update: Spotty replies over at his site by again attacking my motives and those of others, motives I hypothetically conceded in this post for the sake of argument. No where does Spotty answer the question of how denying a relatively few individual kids from low-income families vouchers to escape failing schools is better for them?

In fact, he addresses nothing of substance written above. His one non-abusive thought is it is better to stick it out with public schools. Okay -- better for whom? Better for a kid trapped in a failing school? Better for a kid who will enter school in three or four years when the school is somehow better? Better for the system and the people working in it that will benefit from more dollars?

Howard Fuller, former Milwaukee school superintendent, a black man and a school choice advocate calls vouchers the Harriet Tubman approach to education -- they won’t save every kid suffering in a failing public school, but a voucher program can save one kid at a time. Spot’s philosophy is that those “one kids at a time” must be sacrificed to stick it out with public schools.
The point is -- even if we dumped how ever much money Spot et al. think we should dump on public schools, even if we dumped it today, it would take a period of time for public schools to show any improvement -- you can dump all the money you want in a program like Q-comp, and it still takes time to train a teacher, for the teacher to incorporate that training into his/her teaching, become good at it, and transfer that to students -- and that’s assuming the state chooses the right training, the teachers take it to heart and the kids respond. Meanwhile, what happens to the kids that have to wait for the improvement and then become, without any choice, the objects of the state’s latest educational experiment. Meanwhile, the administration changes hands, a new Commissioner of Education is appointed, and the program is revamped to reflect a different set of values. How does that benefit kids?

Those are real problems inherent in Spots arguments -- not imaginary conversations or personal attacks. Sure there are problems with voucher programs at 10,000 feet. But down on the ground, as Howard Fuller notes, a voucher program can rescue one kid at a time. Spot does not need to delve into my motives -- he just needs to answer the question -- why is that bad? Thus far, his only answer is the money must stay in the system; from that, the only conclusion is some kids are expendable, and it’s not me that is saying that.

The Twin Cities -- Polluted livers, pure lungs

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:41 AM |  

According to the first-ever “drunkest cities” evaluation by Forbes Magazine, the Twin Cities chugs with the best. Only Milwaukeeans abuse their livers more.

Bob Hume, spokesman for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, notes that only two months ago, Kiplinger's Magazine ranked the Twin Cities metro area second in its "Smart Places to Live" survey. How, he asked, could the same metro area be the nation's second-drunkest?

I have a guess -- smoking bans.

Remember the innocent Blake Van Denburgh? Earlier this year the Minnesota Daily quoted the aspiring animal science major as saying the smoking ban in St. Paul has encouraged him to go to bars more often.

“The smoky environment kept me from going out before,” he said.

I hope this young man and other Twin Citians driven to drink in our smoke-free bars aren’t drinking and driving. To paraphrase a comment attributed to Strib sports reporter Patrick Reusse (“I hope to live long enough to die from secondhand smoke“), everyone should be lucky enough to live long enough to where second hand smoke exposure actually is dangerous.

BTW: I’m still waiting for Bob Moffitt to pick a Thursday night to enjoy a Fish ’n Chips platter at Keegans -- his prize for finishing the sad tale of Blake Van Denburg’s seduction by demon rum.

Presidential visit: Kennedy could learn a lesson from Bachmann's class

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:35 AM |  

Below is a release from the Bachmann campaign on the President’s visit, that is, well, a piece I’d be proud to say was written by my congressional representative. Sure, it’s a little Pollyannaish and “gosh and by golly, I’m here with the president of the United States.” (I consider myself pretty cynical when it comes to hero worship,and certainly not a Bush fan, but found myself having a simialr "goose-pimply" reaction just being in the audience at Bush's 2004 campaign appearance in Hudson.) In the larger context of Bachmann’s political career, the release hits the right tone.

Bachmann has taken several positions in opposition to the Bush administration on highly visible and significant issues. This summary in the Star Tribune is a good one:
Bachmann opposed several of Bush's most notable legislative accomplishments, such as the No Child Left Behind education law (Bachmann sees it as a federal intrusion into local school matters) and the drug benefit for Medicare patients (Bachmann says Medicare can't afford it, and would vote now to repeal it).

She also differs from Bush on some aspects of his plan on immigration (she agrees on border security, but not on a guest worker program or a plan to allow illegal immigrants to become citizens) and has criticized Bush for not better restraining spending.
Yet despite some fundamental differences with the President – true loyalty is honestly disagreeing with someone you respect – Bachmann was having none of reporters attempts to coax her into deserting the President. Again, from the Strib:

Reporters asked Bachmann about the tradeoff between having Bush as a fundraiser but being associated with his low approval ratings.

She was having none of it, declaring herself "thrilled" and "honored" by Bush's help and said it was a vote of confidence in her candidacy.
She didn’t bite and take the opportunity to distance herself from the president, which with her record, she could have easily done. She didn’t make a big deal of her differences with the President; she reaffirmed her solidarity with him. She was honored by his visit and his support. She wasn’t concerned about the babbling of critics who will disingenuously portray her has a Bush lackey. By not taking it seriously, she completely deflates the issue.

Mark Kennedy could take a lesson from her. His overly sensitive response to charges that he’s a Bush rubber stamp, rightly or wrongly, lends credibility to the charge. He should be defending his votes that supported Bush, not running from them to point out some minor disagreements.

Say what you will, Bachmann is not just a pair of empty pink gloves. And although I don’t always agree with her, she has character and integrity. Here’s her summary of the President’s visit.

The Scoop on President Bush's Visit

What an honor it was to have the President of the United States here on my behalf. Hopefully, you were able to see some of the coverage on television, heard about it on the radio or saw an article in the newspaper.

After President Bush participated in a Health Care Forum in Minnetonka, I was able to join him, Governor Tim Pawlenty, US Senator Norm Coleman and White House Advisor Karl Rove for the limousine ride to my event. On the way to the Jundt home in Wayzata, we were informed we were going to make a stop. Little did we know what a treat it would be for us, literally and a treat for the unsuspecting customers at Glaciers Custard and Coffee Café.

I have never been in the Presidential limousine before so I was a little unsure what to do when the limousine stopped at the custard stand. I wasn't sure if I should exit with the President or get out of my side of the car. Karl Rove told me I would exit out the door on my side after The President steps out and someone would open the door for me. I could not believe I was discussing what flavor of custard to order with the President of the United States!

President Bush was so incredibly engaging with the servers. He actually stuck half of his body through the order window and asked, "Can anybody get some custard here." It was fun to see the excitement in the people's faces when it dawned on them that President Bush was in the same line to order custard. People were whipping out their cell phones to call loved one to say, you will not believe who is here. Everyone wanted to get their picture taken with him.

Always the mom, I thought, we need napkins. I asked the President if he had a napkin and he said no. So, I had to quickly grab napkins. I cannot imagine dripping custard in the Presidential limousine.

President Bush and I did share our custards with Governor Pawlenty, Senator Coleman and Karl Rove. Every bit of custard was gone well before we arrived at the Jundt home!

As we were driving, President Bush was constantly waving to people along the streets. I was struck by the humility he has towards his role as President of the United States. He enjoys connecting with people, even ever so briefly, and having them feel they have made contact with the President of the United States. I turned around and looked out the back window. The expressions on people's faces were priceless. They were just ecstatic when they realized The President had just waved at them.

If they were ecstatic, I can not even put into words the honor and joy I felt from having the support of The President. I am also grateful to the Jundt family who graciously opened their home, Southways, which is part of Minnesota history. I would also like to thank Governor Tim Pawlenty and US Senator Norm Coleman for co-sponsoring the event. It was truly remarkable. If you are ever in Wayzata, stop in at Glaciers. Just tell them the President sent you!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

COLUMN -- Helping schools get their ACT together

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:08 PM |  

Monday, 23 August, 2006

Yes, Ms. Schaubach, we should “invest” more in education.

Trumpeting the triumph of Minnesota’s best-in-the-nation ACT scores, Judy Schaubach, President of Education Minnesota, declares --

“Today’s news about Minnesota’s ACT scores is wonderful. It is more proof that our teachers and students are focused, committed and they’re succeeding, But if we do not continually improve how we support and invest in education, we are not going to be standing here in two years, five years or 10 years from now sharing news like today’s ACT news.”

“Invest” is the operative word. To Schaubach, “invest” means spending more money, specifically spending more money on a monopoly system of public education, which she credits for Minnesota’s ACT performance. More on that later. For now, let’s talk about “investment.”

The three most important principles of investing are “diversify, diversify and diversify.” The money-grubbing “Boiler Room” broker played by Ben Affleck in the film of the same name pressured the gullible into a single-investment scheme, but outside of a Hollywood production studio, there isn’t a financial counselor that would recommend dumping all one’s assists in a single “investment.”

Further, a good portfolio is one balanced between steady investments and promising opportunities. Over time, one watches one’s portfolio and shifts funds from investments trending downward to those showing more positive results. That doesn’t mean jumping on the latest fad, and it doesn’t mean turning one’s entire portfolio on a single quarter’s performance. It does mean constantly looking for new ideas from a diverse set of sources.

So, in that sense, I agree we should “invest” more in education. --- not spend more, but look to achieve a little balance in our educational portfolio. We should provide for a uniform system of education as is constitutionally mandated, but we shouldn’t put all our educational eggs in that one-system basket. We need to expand that portfolio to include meaningful school choice.

In the past two sessions, legislation has been proposed that would provide state vouchers to low-income families that they can apply towards tuition at any certified private school. The vouchers would pay up to the state instructional amount allocated by the state for each student; the balance of funds allocated for each student would remain with the school district. The legislation has yet to make it out of committees, a major factor being opposition from Education Minnesota and school district administrators.

Why the resistance? If we return to the investment metaphor, taxpayers are the investors, state government is the broker, and the public education system is a company seeking investment. If the metaphor were perfect, public education would compete with other education providers for tax dollars based on its performance – how well it was providing education to our kids. But the metaphor is not perfect – the virtual monopoly hold on education of government schools creates a system with virtually no completion. Public education does not have to compete for revenue,; it merely has to create the perception of doing a good job and imply that it could do even better with more “investment.”

Thus, it’s not surprising that Schaubach’s crowing about Minnesota’s ACT scores cackles with the duplicity of an Enron annual report. For example, the association web site notes “the U.S. Census Bureau puts Minnesota in a virtual three-way tie for the top percentage of people who graduate from high school.”

Aside from the fact that “completion rate,” which takes drop-outs into the mix when calculating graduation rates, is a more accurate measure,* the teachers union ignores the much publicized, much hushed, fact that urban Minnesota has one of the highest achievement gaps in the nation between children of color and white students.

The public school system is telling us they are addressing that problem, like Detroit once told us it was fixing quality problems with its cars. The difference is, while Detroit was fixing, consumers were buying foreign cars at record rates – to their benefit. While schools are fixing, low-income families are stuck in floundering schools – to their detriment. Perpetuating that situation is morally unacceptable.

Isn’t about time to take “investment” in education seriously and start thinking like investors? Isn’t past time to diversify our education portfolio? No one system has the only answer to educating kids. But like a well-balanced portfolio, a “public education” system including state-run schools, charter schools, private schools, religious schools, home schools, cyber schools and that is open to new ideas will provide a better return on our education “investment.”

COLUMN -- Where are the big-issue discussions in the Klobuchar-Kennedy race?

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:22 AM |  

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Not exactly the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

The Minnesota Senate race between DFLer Amy Klobuchar and Republican Mark Kennedy to replace Democrat Mark Dayton has all the intellectual nuance of a campaign for a seat on a junior high student council. Wait — that's unfair to junior high student councils.

We have two candidates running for arguably the highest elective federal office south of the presidency. Klobuchar and the DFL raise the important issue of whether an inactive CPA license gives Kennedy the authority to call himself a CPA. Kennedy and the Republicans raise the crucial issue of noun versus verb — can Klobuchar call herself a prosecutor when she only manages other prosecutors and doesn't actively prosecute cases herself?

Yes, both candidates have also addressed the pressing issues of the day. Their Web sites and speeches are peppered with clichés and bullet-point plans that have little substance and less chance of passing through the legislative process. More to the point — from bullet to bullet, the plans are ideologically inconsistent. Lost in translation for the masses are fundamental principles that define just what Klobuchar and Kennedy really stand for.

Not everyone can be an Abraham Lincoln or a Stephen Douglas. However, the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates were not significant just by virtue of the personalities of the Senate candidates from Illinois. Their seven debates focused on the extension of slavery into the territories, but as contentious as that issue was, the discussion went beyond simply "for it or against it." At the heart of the debates lay the fundamental concept of popular sovereignty, the doctrine that citizens could vote whether to be admitted to the union as slave state or free.

Douglas, a Democrat and a strong proponent of popular sovereignty doctrine, crossed party lines and opposed the pro-slavery constitution drafted by the Kansas territorial legislature, arguing that it was fraudulently approved. His principled vote garnered him support among anti-slavery Republicans and forced challenger Lincoln to push the immorality of slavery over the legal question. Lincoln demanded that Douglas reconcile his support for popular sovereignty with the Dred Scott decision, which implied that any prohibition of slavery was unconstitutional. Douglas did so by defining the "Freeport Doctrine" — a state could popularly exclude slavery by not passing legislation necessary to enforce it.

The brief review of popular sovereignty illustrates what's lacking in the Klobuchar-Kennedy contest. The Lincoln-Douglas debates had their share of political rhetoric, but they also struggled with big ideas and fundamental questions about the direction of American government.

"I sometimes wonder if people in Washington ever passed ninth-grade civics," said the outgoing chairman of the National Governors Association, Mike Huckabee, R-Ill., at the association's summer meeting. Huckabee was referring to the attitude of the federal government "that states are mere satellites of a centralized federal authority."

Federal and state government authority is defined constitutionally. The 10th Amendment specifically states that "the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or the people." However, the reality of the way government works provides plenty of wiggle room for creative legislation.

Blurring the line between federal authority and state prerogative is a proliferation of federal grant programs that coerce states to adopt federal requirements to get federal funds — to impose standards "voluntarily" that could not be imposed constitutionally. Think No Child Left Behind and performance standards for K-12 public schools. Think highway funds contingent on seat-belt laws and a 0.08 legal alcohol limit. Think energy credits and subsidies to favored energy producers.

A more dramatic example of the federal government stepping on state toes is the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which would authorize the president to take control of state national guard units under vaguely described "emergency" circumstances, usurping the 230-plus-year history of governors as commanders in chief of state guard units.

Where Klobuchar and Kennedy stand on those issues is just a starting point for debate and discussion. The elephant in the room is the fundamental question of the increasing centralization of power in the federal government. How do Klobuchar and Kennedy reconcile their own proposals for federal programs with the notion of separation of federal and state powers? Or is centralization in and of itself a good thing?

Addressing that question makes for a lot more interesting and relevant debate than who's not a CPA and who's not a prosecutor.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A vain effort? Challenging Democrats to think.

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:28 PM |  

It’s usually a waste of time picking on DCCC press releases. It’s virtually impossible to embarrass Democrats, especially where Michele Bachmann is concerned. Nonetheless, there’s an interesting thread in the below the subhead “facts.”
Bush, Bachmann Put Special Interests First in Stay the Course Campaign Stop
Bush in Minnesota Shows his Support for Michele Bachmann as she Shows her Loyalty to the Failed Bush Agenda that Has Repeatedly Put the Special Interests Ahead of Women and Children

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, President Bush is campaigning in Minnesota for Rubber Stamp in Training Michele Bachmann and with her record of putting big special interests ahead of the well being of women and children, it is no surprise that Bush is supporting her. Minnesota families deserve to know that Bachmann has repeatedly voted against health care for women and children. In 2005 alone, she voted against helping women with postpartum depression, against developing programs to prevent cervical cancer and against expanding mental health services for Minnesota youth. She has voted this way all while putting the special interests ahead of Minnesota interests and it is long past time for a change.

This November, Minnesota families face a clear choice. They can choose the George Bush-Michele Bachmann status quo or they can vote for a new direction, where the special interests will never trump the critical health care needs of women and children.

“Over and over Michele Bachmann has voted to put the special interests first and the health and well being of women and children last,” said Bill Burton, communications director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “George Bush may expect that kind of behavior from his Rubber Stamps in Congress, but Minnesota families deserve better than Michele Bachmann and her record of repeatedly voting against health care for women and children.”

Putting Women and Children Second

Bachmann Voted Against Postpartum Depression Education for Women. In 2005, Bachmann voted against a bill requiring and providing for the commissioner to establish a postpartum depression education and information program for use by health care professionals providing prenatal care to women. [SF2278, 5/4/05; passed 38-29]

Bachmann Voted Against Cervical Cancer Prevention Plan. In 2005, Bachmann voted against a bill requiring and providing for the commissioner to develop a statewide integrated and comprehensive cervical cancer prevention plan. [SF2278, 5/4/05; passed 38-29]

Bachmann Voted Against Expanding Mental Health Services for Youth Rehabilitation. In 2005, Bachmann voted against the 2005 Health and Human Services Omnibus Spending Bill, which expanded medical assistance coverage to transitional youth intensive rehabilitative mental health services. [SF2278, 5/4/05; passed 38-29]
Look at the three programs Bachmann voted against. Good intentions all, but are the proposed programs legitimate functions of government?

Why should state government, as opposed to say medical associations, be in the business of running a postpartum depression and education program? Why isn’t that part of the physician/patient relationship. Good intentions, but what are the criteria that justify this program as opposed to some other medical education program? What are the criteria for determining if any medical education program rises to the level of requiring government intervention? To classify a vote against this program as a vote against women is pure demagoguery.

The cervical cancer prevention and the mental health coverage for plans for transitional youth make a little more sense as public health issues, although the DCCC criticism is based on good intentions and not any set of objective criteria for why such programs rise to the level of necessary government intervention. As I’ve often criticized Republicans, the DCCC is so locked into its anti-opposition mode that it fails to advance any meaningful discussion. What is there about these latter two programs that justifies them as “public health” issues not individual health issues? Why might Bachmann’s vote be wrong (not evil) -- on logical, not emotional grounds?

The larger question is, what constitutes a “public health” issue? What are the criteria to determine when a health issue rises to the level of necessitating government intervention? Don’t just demagogue Bachmann. Think about it.

Friday, August 18, 2006

A inconvenient (and uncomfortable) truth

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:12 PM |  

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

COLUMN -- Candidates' health plan goes too far

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:38 PM |  

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

I am not a doctor. I do not play one on television. I do not impersonate one on the Internet. Nonetheless, after examination of the health care proposal of Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Peter Hutchinson and lieutenant governor candidate Dr. Maureen Reed, I can say their hearts are in the right place, their heads are screwed on correctly, but their vision is dangerously blurred.

Hutchinson and Reed hold the heartfelt conviction that health care is Minnesota's great economic threat and state government must do something about it. A piecemeal, easy-to-swallow approach won't cure the problem. Health care suffers from systemic problems, and only a system-wide approach can cure it.

But it's not just health care providers that get the Hutchinson-Reed treatment. To cure the dizzying spiral of health care costs, they also prescribe the sometimes-bitter medicine of personal responsibility.

Hutchinson and Reed identify Minnesotans, as aggregate consumers of health care, as the beneficiaries of an improved care system. But the Hutchinson-Reed vision gets fuzzy when one steps away from aggregate measures and looks at individual patients consulting with physicians and making decisions about their families' unique health care needs. Actions that produce aggregate good results might not provide good results for a given individual patient. Moreover, it can be argued that emphasis on the "best practices" aspects of the Hutchinson-Reed plan dangerously compromise the fundamental medical principle "First, do no harm."

A proper role for government? The Hutchinson-Reed prescription for health care system recovery consists of cutting administrative costs, improving quality, increasing access, motivating individual responsibility, providing consumer information and supporting those efforts with "most beneficial" public health actions. The plan is wide-ranging and encompasses many functions and responsibilities of state government. That is its strength. It's not feel-good political pandering. It's an honest attempt to reform health care.

That said, the plan gets caught up in its own grand vision. Some initiatives are clearly government's responsibility. Others push the limits of government intervention in private affairs. Still others dangerously ignore potential negative side effects of good intentions.

Providing consumer information and setting requirements for health care providers to the state are actions that government ought to be taking. The public health portion of the plan, however, which focuses on tobacco use and calls for a statewide indoor smoking ban, hints at some of the Hutchinson-Reed vision problems.

Sticklers for a systemwide approach to problem solving, Hutchinson and Reed seem to ignore that public health policy sometimes conflicts with a larger system of individual choice and property rights.

The conflict between public health and individual choice is even more evident when Hutchinson and Reed call for aggressive public health efforts to curb the "obesity epidemic," which, unlike a smoking ban intrusion on individual choice, isn't even supported by a crutch like "secondhand fat."

Aggregate benefits, but individual concerns. It is measuring and motivating physician quality, however, that really clouds the Independence Party vision. Pushing state-sanctioned quality of care objectives, like a 90-95 percent immunization rate, is a worthy pursuit on the surface, but such goals start from an efficiency perspective, not the "do no harm" principle.

A specific example — the past year has seen significant research supporting the theory that vaccines (containing varying amounts of mercury) given during the first six months of life can have negative neurological effects on some genetically predisposed children. Reed dismissed the immunization issue at a news conference, instead describing "best practices" for treating chronic diseases like diabetes, ensuring that every patient got proper care.

[Note -- following paragraph was edited for space in the column as published. Added here for clarity of the point.]

If a physician is graded for “quality” by the percentage of immunizations given, does he become a provider of information or a salesman for universal immunization? Does that not put some children at risk that do not fall within “normal” genetic parameters? What is a doctor to do with patients that can hurt his “quality” score by not vaccinating their children or requesting a delay in the vaccination schedule or, if pregnant, refusing a flu shot containing a mercury-based preservative? [End addition]

Kudos to Hutchinson and Reed for presenting a bold plan to address health care concerns, but it's a plan Minnesotans ought to evaluate very carefully. For all its good intentions and sound thought, the plan should not be accepted blindly.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

There he goes again -- Kennedy on energy policy

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:43 PM |  

Mark Kennedy may approve this message, but anybody that knows anything about energy policy, or is willing to face the truth about energy policy, doesn’t.
Mark Kennedy Campaign Unveils “Gas Pump”

(St. Paul, Minnesota) – Mark Kennedy’s U.S. Senate campaign launched its third ad of the campaign season today. The ad, “Gas Pump,” talks about Kennedy’s plan to end our dependence on foreign sources of oil and lower gas prices at the pump. Kennedy released the following statement:

“America is too dependent on foreign sources of oil, raising the cost at the pump and threatening our security. We need to harness the same spirit that got a man to the moon to become energy independent. That’s why I introduced a bi-partisan bill that would take tax breaks away from the oil companies and redirect them to double incentives for E85, ethanol, and hybrid technology. (H.R. 4623)

“I also support a plan that would expand the use of renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel by implementing the 10x10 and 25x25 plan that requires the U.S. fuel supply to consist of 10% renewable fuels like ethanol by 2010 and 25% by 2025.

“Finally, I’ve proposed to temporarily suspend the federal gas tax, which would immediately lower prices at the pump by 18.4 cents per gallon. The Highway Trust Fund would remain fully funded by collecting deep-water lease royalty fees that were previously uncollected due to an oversight of the Management and Mineral Service. The $7 billion would bring the past-due accounts of deep-water oil companies up to date and hold the Highway Trust Fund harmless without raising taxes.” (H.R. 5302)

To view “Gas Pump,” visit

I am baffled that as a CPA Kennedy believes that you can address the price of gasoline, which is on many levels a supply and distribution problem, by increasing the quantity demanded by artificially lowering the price at the pump. Take away oil company subsidies, fine, but understand that you are reducing resources available for exploration and production to support technologies that can’t produce the equivalent amount of energy for the same subsidy amount. How in the hell is that going to lower the price at the pump?

I’ve written before, and I say it again, this kind of political pandering doesn’t do the reputation or credibility of the GOP any good.

Sorry, but I don’t buy that being right on the big issue of the War on Terror grants immunity to fudge the truth on other issues. On foreign policy alone, Kennedy deserves the Senate seat over Klobuchar, but damn it, his credibility becomes a hard sell to non-believers if he keeps churning out insincere or just plain ignorant energy policy.

Last chance for Dixie Chicks tickets

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:46 PM |  

As a public service to the liberals flocking to pick away at my education posts, and as an attempt to assuage any perception of incivility, I advise readers of the following --

August 15, 2006


There are just 3 days left for our Dixie Chicks tickets giveaway! Tune in to Minnesota Matters for your chance to win a pair of tickets to see the Dixie Chicks LIVE at the Target Center this Friday!

Dixie Chicks LIVE @ Target Center

You have just three more days to win yourself a PAIR of tickets to see the Dixie Chicks in concert this Friday down at the Target Center. Keep you ear to the radio and your hand on the phone to be one of the first callers when you hear the Dixie Chicks sounder play during the Minnesota Matters show. Tune in TONIGHT to win!

Here is the specific concert information:

Dixie Chicks LIVE at the Target Center
Friday, August 18
Show starts at 7:30PM
Accidents & Accusations Tour

Find tickets Online

If you don't get the chance to win yourself tickets from Minnesota Matters, you can still find open seats for the show online at the link listed above. Thanks for listening and GOOD LUCK!


Justin Thiessen
Air America Minnesota
phone: 952-946-8885

Monday, August 14, 2006

Be afraid. Be very afraid. (A liberal view of education) -- updated

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:15 PM |  

This is why liberalism is a very frightening philosophy.

My recent education column and post has drawn lots of liberal criticism, most of it irrelevant to the central issue. But sometimes if you keep questioning, avoid getting sucked into the world of innuendo and insult, a liberal will stumble into intellectual honesty. For example, this excerpt from a comment to my Wetterling fisk.

My point here is not about Social Security but about public education which I would say despite a lot of negative publicity and rhetoric is still well managed and meeting the needs of this state, as well as the country. The idea that parents could somehow choose in a diverse "marketplace" of schools to ensure that collectively our children could receive a better education has a facile attraction except I think this reasoning is based upon the fallacy of composition. You know, if it is good for me to stand up to see the game, it is good for everyone to stand up to see the game. In fact, everyone is collectively worse off if we leave education to the private decisions of parents, a great many of whom have no idea how a "good education" would be structured. I know I relied a great deal on the professional educators in my child's education which was at a public school.

So I guess that yes, I do lack a certain faith in individuals not in making decisions for themselves but in making decisions for their children which have enduring consequences. I think public schooling is a good way for society to safeguard its young and against the improvidential decisonmaking by their parents, just as I lack the confidence in individuals making providential decisions about their old age.
I won’t refute what is said here. It is a far more damning indictment of liberalism standing alone than any rebuttal would be. It expresses the fundamental notion of liberalism that unless you are among the intellectual elite you are incapable of taking care of yourself and it is the responsibility of liberals to do it for you. The words and ideas are all there -- “needs of the state and the country,” “collectivity,” reliance on “professional educators.”

It begs the questions of who will decide for the people and how the decision-makers will be chosen. Clearly, people can’t choose their leaders if they can’t make basic life decisions.

What can I say? Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Update: How quickly power liberals turn on their own.

why conservatives shouldn't be trusted with civil discourse

Because they get somebody you've never heard of to make a dumb statement. Then they immediately and hysterically extrapolate from that that EVEYONE THEY DISAGREE WITH AGREES WITH THAT STATEMENT AND MUST BE STOPPED.

If Smartie calls a comment coming from a professed liberal dumb, it must be dumb. I credited the commenter with holding a sincere belief that I thought was misguided and even dangerous, but not dumb. Obviously, Smartie concludes, I can’t be trusted with civil discourse. Civility demands that I call the idea dumb. That’s what Smartie says, and Smartie is a most civil man.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Fisking Wetterling on Education

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:48 PM |  

No Photoshop. No personal insult. No allegation of hidden agendas. Just a look at the basic underlying philosophy of Patty Wetterling on education, in her own words, and why I disagree with it (IN BOLD).

On the Issues: Education

As Minnesotans, we are justifiably proud of our public schools. Our teachers and our students consistently rank near the top nationwide. But as a former teacher, a parent and the founder of two PTAs, my hands-on experience with education tells me the same thing that I am hearing from my neighbors in the Sixth Congressional District: we can and must do better for our children because their future and our economic security as a nation depends on it.

Good first paragraph -- schools are doing great, but must do better. Two points to keep in mind. First, state rankings are aggregate. They tell us how a system is doing, but not how individuals within that system are doing. Second, as a former teacher, Wetterling is in an excellent position to offer suggestions for improving the current “public school system.” But what about the larger view of “public education”? Is Wetterling’s objective to improve public schools or improve individual education? They need not be one in the same.

What Can the Federal Government Do to Improve Minnesota Schools?

While state and local school districts are primarily responsible for educating our children, I believe that the Congress, the President, and the federal government should play an important role as partners in the effort. Decision-making regarding our schools is, for the most part, best left to local communities, but the federal government does have a responsibility to make sure that state and local officials have the resources they need to provide our children with the best educations possible. Unfortunately, too many of the politicians in Washington are not living up to that responsibility.

Good clear stance -- which I disagree with. The basic internal inconsistency is that the federal government cannot provide resources for education without first taking those resources from individuals. By taking those resources, the federal government limits educational choices of individuals to those "choices" that it decides to dedicate their resources too. Many might consider that a good idea -- Wetterling obviously does. I would ask, if it is wrong for the federal government to contribute resources to specific religions in the name of religious freedom, why is it okay for the government to contribute recourses to education -- the way people think?

Broken Promises:

No Child Left Behind
In 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act became law and was widely viewed as a sweeping reform of our education system nationwide. It mandated new testing requirements for America’s students, set tough new standards for our schools, and promised new funding so that our school districts and our educators would have the resources to meet a new standard of excellence. Sadly, the federal government has broken that promise. Congress has consistently failed to fully fund NCLB – falling $13.2 billion short in Fiscal Year 2006 alone.

First -- that Congress has not fully funded NCLB says nothing about the substance of the program. For the record, I think that NCLB is flawed for the consistent reasons given above -- the federal government has no constitutional authority to be involved in education, which is a state, local and individual responsibility. The Inconsistency in Wetterling’s position, or at least the difficulty with it, is her failure to recognize that giving the federal government a role in education means that, like NCLB, it can really screw things up. The higher the level of government, the more power it has, the more it can screw up for more people. At the local level, a private or a charter school fails; a set of families is affected. The government screws up NCLB and the nation is affected. Is that the way we want to manage education policy?

Second -- if the federal government is going to give funds to schools and demand accountability, and not measure accountability through parental choice, how other than high-stakes, arbitrary tests is that accountability going to be determined? To whom should schools be accountable -- the government, or parents that send children to those schools?

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
I was proud when my daughter decided to follow in my footsteps and became a teacher; and even prouder when she decided to work with students who have special needs. Frequently, however, I can see and hear her frustration and that of other parents across the Sixth Congressional District because the inadequate funding of special education is one of the biggest problems facing schools in Minnesota and across the country. More than 30 years ago, in 1975, the federal government promised to fund 40% of the education costs for special needs students and that commitment has not been met a single time. Not only does this mean that children with disabilities are being shortchanged, it means that every school district in the state is forced to divert resources from other programs to cover the federal shortfall – all of our children are feeling the effects.

It can be argued whether or not special education is really under funded, but that’s a sticks and stones argument. At the policy level understand that while special education funds are based on individual students, once the student enrolls at a public school, the funds go into a pool for “special education.” To make a statement like "40 percent of the education costs for special needs students" is misleading because we really have no idea what the cost is. If funds received remained attached to the child, rather than going to a system pool, better decisions for the child, not the system, could be made.

What Will I Do?
I will work with educators to assess the ongoing challenges of NCLB that are unique to Minnesota schools.

Good objective, except Minnesota schools are not unique. Children are unique. All schools have pretty much the same problems meeting mandates, funded or not. Why is Minnesota more deserving of federal dollars than, say, Arkansas? Which states should lose and which should win? By what standard? How about "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need," or "all animals are equal, but pigs are more equal than others"?

No More Unfunded Mandates
The United States Congress simply cannot continue to force requirements on local school districts and then leave them with no way to pay for the programs needed to meet them. We are all forced to set priorities when we establish our household budgets, the Congress must do the same. Education of our children is the most important investment in this nation’s future that we can make. I will work hard to ensure the Washington keeps it promise to America’s students and teachers by doing everything in my power to ensure that No Child Left Behind and special education are fully funded. And I won’t vote for any new laws that put additional burdens on our schools unless Congress provides a way to pay for it.

This is the liberal version of “no new taxes” -- a blunt instrument that ties governments’ hands, sometimes in ways we don’t want. By fully-funding NCLB, is Wetterling in agreement that NCLB is a good program that ought to be funded? Her statement implies she wouldn’t have voted for it unless it was funded, but that demonstrates her lack of understanding of how Congress works.

When a program like NCLB is passed, it is passed with a recommended spending level, and a spending cap. But passing the bill isn’t the same as passing an appropriation bill. Actual annual funding for programs is passed as part of separate appropriations bills that balances the amounts requested for all kinds of programs. Passing a program, which ought to be based on its merits, is different than passing appropriations, which is based on competing requests and economics. Uncertain funding, which is built into the system, is another reason why federal involvement in education is not a good thing.

Further, let’s take NCLB and the assumption that Wetterling favors it because she wants to fully fund it. For all its flaws, NCLB made America aware of the Achievement gap between children of color and white students hidden by statements like Wetterling’s opening, “Our teachers and our students consistently rank near the top nationwide.” That’s true, but before NCLB, few people realized that Minnesota’s urban schools also have one of the highest achievement gaps in the nation as well.

Would Wetterling maintain such a gap for the economic reason that schools can’t afford to close it without more federal dollars? I don't think so, but that's the consequence, unintended or not, of her stated position.

Reduce Class Size
As a teacher, I know that every child learns in a unique way and I have never seen a child that didn’t benefit by a teacher’s personal attention. I will support the hiring of more teachers so that we can reduce the size of our classrooms and create the best possible learning environment for our children.

This is a canard, well intentioned that it might be. How much are we willing to spend to hire more teachers to achieve what level of class-size reduction? Why that size and not one student less? Seems like a simple question, and it is relatively simple if you are talking about a single school or even a school district. But Wetterling is running for Congress. The decision she will face is spending millions if not billions of dollars to hire tens if not hundreds of thousands of teachers in tens of thousands of schools. Is a federal expenditure the best way to achieve functional lower class sizes and, while smaller class-size is better, is it the highest priority for education dollars? I would argue that the floor of Congress is not the best place to decide those issues.

(It's interesting that under proposed Minnesota voucher programs, students opting for private schools would take a voucher worth only -- at maximum-- less than half the state funds allocated per student. That means for those remaining in district shools, class size is reduced and dollars per student goes up for a period of years.)

Provide for School Construction
I believe that the federal government can assist in rebuilding and improving our education system’s infrastructure. Children can’t learn and teachers shouldn’t be asked to teach in buildings that are falling apart and classrooms that are unsafe. I will support funding for school construction and improvement.

The federal government can assist in building schools, but should it? Again, aren’t those kinds of resources decisions better left to the states from which government originally took the resources in the first place? Why should people from Minnesota send money to Washington to build schools in Tennessee, or the other way around? In other words, why should Washington decide Minnesota needs a new school more than Tennessee does?

An Emphasis on Math and Science
As a math teacher, I have a special appreciation for the importance of math and science skills in today’s more technologically advanced workplaces. Math, science, technological and engineering skills are critical to our children’s futures and to our national economy. I will support funding for programs that help our students develop these skills, as well as those that will train our educators to better teach them.

Again, and perhaps the best example, this is why I disagree with Wetterling’s federal approach to education. I certainly have no problem with math and science and certainly believe they are necessary if America needs to compete in the world. However, it’s dangerous and foolish to let the federal government set educational priorities. We educate children so they can make choices about what they want to do with their lives, not as cogs in the national economy. This notion leads the “School to Work” philosophy that would tie “education policy” to “national industrial policy,” the notion that government can manage the labor force. Do we really want the federal government picking academic winners and losers?
Wetterling’s basic education position is that the federal government should play a significant role in education policy, funding and even content. If I had a “Dump Wetterling” mentality I’d Photoshop her tearing up the constitution. I’d demand to know if Patty Wetterling endorses tyranny where the federal government dictates what every person will study. I’d demand to know if she supports every position of teacher’s unions (Does she support high-cost school supplies resulting from a Wal-Mart boycott?) and the blatant socialism of Marc Tucker (of “Dear Hillary” fame). That’s the way Michele Bachmann is attacked.

However, I don’t for a second think that Wetterling holds any of those views. And frankly I don’t care who supports her, other than as a directional indicator. Her philosophical direction is clear. All of what she proposes is well-intentioned, some of her ideas are good (the implementation method is at question), but then so was the building of the Bridge over the River Kwai.

Wetterling‘s positions, regardless of immediate intentions, move us along the path to federal dominance of education -- not just policy, but now content. While advocating federal involvement in education, Wetterling sets no logical limit on that involvement. If the government can target science and math for special attention, then why not at some point human genetic engineering? Maybe that master race thing isn’t such a bad idea after all?

This is a dangerous position, not just for what it says, but because it has immediate appeal for people looking for simplistic feel-good approaches to complex problems. It wasn’t until the good guys started dying that well-intentioned Col. Nicholson realized that maybe building a bridge for the enemy to cross the Kwai wasn’t the best way to build his troops’ morale. His dying words “What have I done?” I submit, play very well examining Wetterling’s education position.

Have it it folks!

Update: Contrast Wetterling’s education philosophy with Michele Bachamnn’s.
As a mother of 5 children and 23 foster children, education is a primary concern for our family. Our schools must set high academic standards to prepare our children for fulfilling future careers in the workforce and to become knowledgeable citizens as our future leaders. Providing parents with educational choices, not more red tape with expensive and unmanageable mandates, is one of my guiding principles for educational reform.

The most important educator of children is parents and guardians. Consequently, the best education system empowers parents with information and allows for greater parental involvement. For that reason, I'm a strong supporter of local control for our schools to ensure the most important decisions are made by parents, classroom teachers, and members of the local community where our children live and attend school. Those closest to our students, not well-intentioned but distant bureaucrats, understand best our students' needs to achieve academic excellence.
Yes, it’s light on detail compared to Wetterling’s web page, but it is so because Bachmann is not proposing that the federal government expand it’s role in education. When she reacts to proposals like those Wetterling supports, it will be in the context of the impact on local control, parental responsibility and obligation and the impact on individual children. In two brief paragraphs, she provides a concise statement of specific principle in sharp contrast to Wetterling’s well-intentioned bureaucracy and "do good, avoid evil" ambiguity.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

COLUMN -- P-U-B-L-I-C doesn't spell 'monopoly'

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:58 AM |  

Thursday, August 8, 2006

As the saying goes, "when your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." Stillwater resident Karl Bremer grabs a sledge hammer in his Aug. 8 Viewpoint piece "She's says it's No. 1, but is she for it or against it?" His only political tool is guilt by association, so every problem looks like Michele Bachmann, 6th District congressional candidate.

The gist of Bremer's harangue is that it is somehow inconsistent for Bachmann to say that public education is "her number one issue" and accept campaign contributions from individuals who have signed the proclamation of the Alliance for the Separation of School and State, which favors "ending government involvement in education." In his effort to politically nail Bachmann, Bremer pounds on contributors to the Alliance as "public education abolitionists" who "want to kill public education."

Continuing the one-tool theme: When public education is equated only with government-run schools, then every criticism of state schools looks like an attack on "public education." That is simply not the case.

Public education is more than "public schools." Hammering away with personal attacks, Bremer fails to nail down the fundamental issue underlying his rant — opposition to parental school choice, the idea that parents of all income levels, not just the well-to-do, should have the opportunity to free their children from schools that aren't meeting their needs, including the option of sending their children to neighborhood private schools.

Bremer applies a narrow definition of "public education" that equates it solely with the monopoly system of government-run schools; thus any criticism, justified or not, is seen as criticism of "public education" instead of what it is — criticism of one system of delivering skills and knowledge. Criticism is seen as an attempt to "kill public education." Not true. Public education is more than "public schools."

"Public education" should be any education that furthers public interests. It is not a specific system for delivering skills and knowledge. A society that values individual liberty and encourages creative approaches to social problems ought to have more than one tool in the box. State-run schools, charter schools, private schools, religious schools, home schools, cyber schools and forms of education that haven't even been thought of yet all have a place in a public education system focused not on system preservation, but on educating children.

The "public education" debate is not about whether private schools are better than state schools. It is not about whether home-schooled kids win more spelling and geography bees than public or private school kids.

It's not about whether some parents want their kids to receive an education steeped in religious values and others want education focused on the learning process rather than core knowledge. It's simply about making policy that encourages opportunities for all families, of all economic levels, to educate their children in a manner they, not the state, choose.

That is why it is so bizarre that those claiming the most interest in preserving "public education," including teachers unions and school administrators, are those most opposed to parental school choice, which would create greater educational opportunities for all children.

Section One of Article XIII of the Minnesota state constitution authorizes the Legislature to "establish a general and uniform system of public schools." But within that charge, there is no notion of exclusivity. In other words, the Minnesota constitution requires public schools, but does not limit "public education" to public schools.

Section Two of Article XIII prohibits direct state support for "schools wherein the distinctive doctrines, creeds or tenets of any particular Christian or other religious sect are promulgated or taught," but it does not prohibit individual parents who receive educational vouchers from freely using them at religious schools, provided (courts have ruled) there are other non-religious alternatives.

The point is simply this – Minnesota is not constitutionally bound to a monopolistic, state-controlled education system. To question the effectiveness of a single-system of delivering skills and knowledge to all children, regardless of how well it does the job, is not inconsistent with making a broader-based notion of public education one's No. 1 concern.

No one person or one system has all the answers for educating all children; but there are schools in both the public and private systems achieving great successes, even among the hardest-to-educate of children. It is the hammerin' Bremers, not the Bachmanns of the world, who stand in the way of families seeking out and choosing those schools for their children.